Most people have eaten coconut at some point in their lives. This high-fat fruit can be used to make ice creams, pastries, curries, and vegan dairy substitutes. It’s also become a popular part of ketogenic diets, which help treat certain health issues and promote weight loss.
Coconut isn’t just for eating, though. The fats from this fruit can also be used as a natural moisturizer for your skin and hair.
What does coconut oil do to hair?
Coconut is a fatty fruit. According to a study in the Philippine Journal of Science, coconut oil contains various types of saturated fats – including caprylic acid, lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid.
Out of all these saturated fats, lauric acid is the one that’s found in the largest amounts. According to the journal Hair: Therapy and Transplantation, lauric acid is particularly drawn to keratin – a protein that’s commonly found in both your hair and skin. This fat is what makes coconut oil good for your hair and scalp.
Putting coconut oil on your hair obviously coats the outside of your hair, like a conditioner. Coconut oil is unique because it can also enter into the hair shaft. The oil essentially soaks into your hair, protecting it from dirt and chemicals and moisturizing it all at the same time.
Similarly, coconut oil can be applied to your skin and scalp. A study in the International Journal of Life Sciences Research says that it can help prevent dry, flaky skin and treat skin problems like dermatitis and eczema.
Coconut oil is also thought to have antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, which are thought to be part of the reason it can help improve skin health. Some of these benefits are thought to come from fats like lauric acid, while others are thought to be due to coconut oil’s antioxidants.
Does it matter which coconut oil I use?
You can find coconut oil online, at your local supermarket or pharmacy, or sold in beauty salons. Pretty much all of these coconut oils or coconut oil-containing products can improve the health of your hair and skin.
That being said, there’s no need to run to your pharmacy or hair salon in search of coconut oil conditioners or moisturizers. In fact, some people even avoid these products as they tend to only contain a small amount of coconut in them. The coconut oils sold in the cooking aisle of your supermarket are your best bet if you’re looking for a pure, concentrated product that’s safe to use on both your skin and hair.
But — don’t assume that all of these coconut oils sold found on that shelf are the same. There can be important differences in the way your coconut oil is made. Some have more benefits than others, so make sure that you’re choosing the coconut oil that’s best for your needs.
Coconut oils aren’t all created equal
Last time you went to the supermarket, did you see a variety of different coconut oils? You probably saw a few different products labeled as extra virgin, virgin, or cold-pressed coconut oil and wondered how they differed from regular coconut oil. Maybe you even saw something called copra oil sitting on the same shelf.
All of these products are types of coconut oil. The main difference between them is how they’re made and which part of the coconut was used to make them.
Some products have labels that can help you work out what makes the item unique. Take cold-pressed coconut oil, for example. Any coconut oil with this label has been specifically made using a cold-pressing technique.
Other products, like virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil, also tend to use the same cold-pressing technique. But, they might also use enzymes to extract the oil or might use a fermentation method. These products are typically categorized as virgin because they use unrefined coconut meat and avoid the use of chemicals.
A standard coconut oil – that doesn’t have a word like virgin or cold-pressed before its name – might have been made with refined or processed coconut meat. It might also have been made using a different process – like a chemical extraction instead of the cold-pressing technique.
But in some cases, coconut oil might not even be made from coconut meat. You can also obtain coconut oil by extracting it from the coconut seed, or a mixture of both the dried meat and seed. This type of coconut oil, which is also known as copra oil, is usually a chemically processed product.
Choosing the right coconut oil
You’d think that – given all the different labels and ways of making coconut oil – one type of coconut oil is better than another. However, according to a study in the Philippine Journal of Science, coconut oils all have roughly the same type of fatty acids. In fact, this study found that copra oil has slightly more free fatty acids, like lauric acid, than the other types of coconut oil.
What does this mean? Well essentially, coconut oil’s beneficial moisturizing properties are the same in both the cheap bottle of copra oil and that expensive container of extra-virgin, organic, cold-pressed coconut oil.
Although the moisturizing properties are the same, if you want more antioxidants for your hair, you might want that expensive bottle after all. A study from Trends in Food Science & Technology reported that virgin coconut oil is likely to have more beneficial antioxidants than regular coconut oil or copra oil. This means that virgin coconut oil is the type you’ll want if you’re hoping to improve scalp health and prevent skin conditions. It’s also thought to be the healthiest type that you can put in your food.
Can I use coconut oil for hair loss?
In general, coconut oil can’t be used for hair loss. But – there are exceptions to that rule.
Hair loss can be caused by a variety of different factors. The most common type of hair loss, androgenic alopecia, is caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors. Another type of hair loss, alopecia areata, is caused by your immune system attacking your hair follicles. Hair loss can even be caused by stress. Coconut oil can’t help with any of these types of hair loss.
However, hair loss can also be caused by other factors. For instance, the Hair: Therapy and Transplantation study reported that pollution can cause scalp irritation, redness, itching, dandruff, pain at the hair roots, and hair loss. Pollution can come from particles like dust or cement in the air, chemical fumes, or smog.
If you’re a construction worker or an architect working at a construction site, it’s completely possible that you might be experiencing hair loss caused by pollution. People working on oil rigs, in solvent production factories, or simply living in a highly polluted city might also experience this type of hair loss.
In these very specific cases, coconut oil can potentially help with hair loss. Coconut oil’s ability to penetrate into your hair strands means that it coats the inside of each strand. This prevents fine particulates of dirt and contaminants from entering helps keep your hair strands healthier.
Applying coconut oil to your scalp can also help prevent pollution’s negative effects on your skin. Both the antioxidants and the moisturizing fats help prevent problems like dandruff and scalp irritation, which in turn keeps your hair follicles healthier.
But to be clear, coconut oil won’t restart the hair growth cycle. Hair follicles that have stopped growing hair will need to be stimulated with an actual hair loss treatment, like minoxidil. Coconut oil will only be able to stop the problem from getting worse and prevent it from happening again.
Coconut oil is good for your hair and skin. The fatty acids it contains help moisturize and protect your hair strands and scalp, while its antioxidants counteract the negative effects of pollution and prevent skin problems.
Coconut oil can be used to improve skin and hair health, but shouldn’t be considered to be a treatment for hair loss. If you’re experiencing hair loss, talk to your doctor. They can help you work out what’s causing this issue and the best way to treat it.